30 years on since its debut, this first major revival of Claire Dowie’s Death and Dancing is a highlight of the Queer Season at the King’s Head Theatre
“Can’t we just be proud in a pub?”
Sitting through Claire Dowie’s play Death and Dancing, it’s hard not to be impressed at how effortlessly she summons the contemporary mood around exploring queer identities and just reductive labels can be, both within and without the LGBT+ community. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the play is just shy of celebrating its 30th anniversary, getting its first major revival here as part of the King’s Head Theatre’s Queer Season.
In the hazy hedonism of their undergraduate days, He and She strike up an extraordinary connection. He’s gay and American, She’s gender-fluid and ferocious and sparks fly as they strike up a fast friendship. But as they explore what the queer community has to offer them, from carefree club hookups to staid uni societies, the intensity of their emotional relationship only grows, calling into question how their identities have been defined thus far.
Eloïse Poulton’s production revels in its anarchic 90s club-kid aesthetic and the way in which the fourth wall is repeatedly smashed can’t help but instantly endear you both sides of this two-hander as they engage in some epic storytelling. And though there are elements where the writing shows its age, there’s plenty more that offers a kinda ageless insight into how difficult it can be to wrestle with society’s definition of who you ought to be.
It helps that Roly Botha and Shelley Rose Kapur (making a fearsomely impressive professional debut) capture that lightning-in-a-bottle chemistry that makes you a sucker for their raucous, flirtatious energy whether it directed at each other or for a special few in the audience. And as it probes into ideas of gender constructs, restrictive labels and just how far you can push boundaries whilst still remaining friends, you have to imagine it can’t be another 30 years until this play is revived again.